Every now and again our Bishops—or one of our Bishops—does something that makes me proud to be a Catholic and a priest. (In recent years, more often it has been Pope Francis who has done this.) I say this because our Bishops are not known for being risk-takers or trend setters on most issues. On June 13, 2018, however, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a strong and unequivocal statement in regard to the asylum issue and the separation of children from their parents. In part the statement read:
“Additionally, I join Bishop Joe Vásquez, Chairman of USCCB's Committee on Migration, in condemning the continued use of family separation at the U.S./Mexico border as an implementation of the Administration's zero tolerance policy. Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma. Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together. While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral."
I am impressed that while Cardinal DiNardo was clear that we have a right to protect our borders—how we do that is just as important as that we do it. He was also able to articulate succinctly and without equivocation our understanding that separating children from their parents is a moral issue and that we need to name it and know it as such. Separating children from their parents is clearly the wrong way to protect our borders, and as Cardinal DiNardo reminds us, it is immoral.
In the play A Man for All Seasons, Cardinal Wolsey fails to force the church to bend to the will of Henry VIII, and annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. As punishment, the King charged Wolsey with high treason. On his deathbed Cardinal Wolsey said: “If I’d served God one half so well as I’ve served my King... God would not have left me here to die in this place.” These words are a chilling reminder to me that while we owe allegiance to our government certainly; ultimately it is our allegiance to God and God’s laws by which we will be judged.
I applaud Cardinal DiNardo’s courage and clarity in reminding us that we cannot ignore the moral issues that are involved in protecting our borders, in particular the issue of the separation of children from their parents. And I pray that this moral imperative will become clear to all those involved in this issue.